“Stop the van!” my father yells.
“Just stop the van, Utah,” I say. If my father is about to have a nervous breakdown, I’d rather he have it outside of the van than inside of it.
Utah pulls over, but before he even has the gear shift in park, my father is opening his door, climbing out of the van. We all watch, dumbfounded, as he starts kicking up gravel on the side of the road. I’ve never seen him this mad.
“Is he okay?” I ask Sagan.
Sagan shrugs. “He seemed fine after we were arrested. He even laughed about it.”
Utah opens the driver’s side door and walks around the car. Honor opens the side door to the van and everyone starts climbing out. Once we’re all standing next to the van, my father pauses his assault on the gravel long enough to catch a breath. He waves a hand across all of us.
“You think just because I’m an adult I have it all figured out? You think I’m not allowed to make mistakes?” He’s not yelling, but he certainly isn’t talking with an inside voice. He begins to pace back and forth. “No matter how hard you try, things don’t always turn out the way you wish they could.”
Utah looks agitated. “Well when you make poor choices, things don’t usually turn out to be sunshine and roses, Dad. Maybe you should have thought about that before you cheated on Mom.”
My father takes several steps toward Utah. He rushes him fast enough that Utah walks backward until he’s pressed against the van. “That’s what I’m talking about! You all think you know everything!” My father spins and takes several steps away from us. He brings his hands up to the back of his head and inhales several deep breaths. When he finally turns around, he’s looking directly at me. Sagan puts a reassuring hand against my lower back.
“Do you want to know why the pills you stole were placebo pills?”
I nod, because I’ve been dying to know since I found out.
“She isn’t in pain,” my father says. “Your mother isn’t in pain, she isn’t recovering from cancer. She never even had cancer.” He walks closer to us. “Your mother never had cancer,” he repeats. “Let that sink in.”
I can see Utah’s fists clench as he takes a sudden step toward our father. “You better elaborate because I am five seconds away from punching you.”
My dad laughs halfheartedly and drags a frustrated hand down his face. His hands then fall to his hips. “Your mother . . . she has . . . issues. She’s had issues since the day she was in that car wreck.” He’s not yelling anymore. Now he just looks defeated. “The brain injury . . . it changed her. She hasn’t been the same, and I know you guys didn’t know her before then but . . .” His face contorts and he looks up at the sky like he’s trying to hold back tears. “She was amazing. She was perfect. She was . . . happy.” He faces the other direction so none of us can see him cry. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.
I clasp my hand over my mouth and wait for him to gather himself. It’s all I can do.
When he finally does turn around, he doesn’t look any of us in the eye. He stares at the ground. “Watching her change from the woman I fell in love with to someone else entirely was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Harder than trying to take care of three kids under the age of two by myself when her episodes would hit and she’d lie in bed for weeks at a time. It was harder than when she started inventing these illnesses in her head, convincing herself she was dying. Harder than when I had to have her committed, and then lied to you all when I told you she was in the hospital for the cancer she was convinced she had.” He looks up at me and then Honor. He finally rests his eyes on Utah. “She’s not the woman I married. And yes, I know it was terrible of me to get involved with Victoria, but it happened and I can’t take it back. And yes, it’s terrible now when your mother has rare moments of clarity. Because when she does, she realizes what her life has become. What our marriage became. And it’s devastating to both of us. And it’s all I can do to hold her and reassure her that I still love her. That I’ll always love her.” He blows out a shaky breath and wipes his tears away. “Because I do love your mother. I always will. It’s just . . . sometimes things don’t turn out how you want them to. And even though I’m an atheist, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that I have a wife who understands that. Victoria has lived the past four and a half years in a house with a woman that I am still in love with. She doesn’t question me when your mother needs me. Victoria doesn’t correct any of you when you insult her and insinuate she’s a homewrecker.” He walks to the van and reaches inside for his jacket. “I’ve never told any of you the truth because I didn’t want any of you to judge your mother. But I didn’t cheat on your mother when she was dying of cancer. She was never dying. She’s not dying now. She’s sick, yes. But not in a way that any of us can help her.” He puts on his jacket and zips it up. “I’m walking home.”
He begins to head away from the van, toward our house that’s still over three miles away. He pauses and faces us again. “All I’ve ever wanted was for you kids to have the opportunity to love a mother like you deserved. To think the world of her. That’s all Victoria’s ever wanted for you.” He starts walking backward. “I just had no idea how much you would all hate me in the process.”
He spins around again and starts walking in the direction of the house. I can hear Honor crying. I even hear Utah crying. I wipe away my own tears and try to inhale a breath that will sustain me for more than two seconds.
I think we’re all in shock. It’s several minutes before any of us move. My father is long out of sight by the time Utah regains his composure enough to speak.
“Get in the van,” he says. He walks around to the driver’s side and climbs in, but none of us move. He honks the horn and then hits the steering wheel. “Get in the damn van!”
Luck takes the front seat and the rest of us climb in the back. Before Sagan even has the door closed, Utah is peeling out, doing a U-turn.
“Where are we going?” Honor asks him.
“We’re going to bury that damn dog with Pastor Brian.”
Pastor Brian’s newer church is much bigger than his old one—the one we live in. I don’t feel so bad that my dad bought it all those years ago. Pastor Brian seems to have upgraded.
Well . . . until he died.
“Hurry up,” Honor says. Sagan is digging the fresh dirt off Wolfgang’s grave. Utah is at the end of the driveway keeping watch. Luck is . . . oh my, God.
“Are you picking your nose?”
Luck wipes his fingers on his shirt and shrugs.
“You’re so gross,” Honor says. She glances at me and mutters under her breath, “I can’t believe you almost had sex with him.”
I ignore her insult. I don’t feel like getting into another fight with her when three out of the five of us are holding the brand-new shovels we bought on the way here. That wouldn’t end well. I also don’t argue with her because . . . well . . . I can’t believe I almost had sex with him, either.
“Got it,” Sagan says. He bends down and starts moving the dirt away from the sheet that Wolfgang is wrapped in. “Luck, give me a hand.”
Luck shakes his head. “No way, man. There’s got to be some bad karma attached to what you’re doing. I want no part in it.”
“Oh, for crying out loud.” I bend down and help Sagan dig Wolfgang the rest of the way out of the dirt. Sagan is able to lift and carry him to the van on his own. I open the back door and he puts him inside the van.
“I need to put the dirt back on his grave so no one is suspicious,” Sagan says.
“You’re getting really good at this criminal life,” I tease.
Sagan grins and closes the back door to the van. “Do you find hardened criminals attractive?” He raises his brow, and the obvious flirtation has my heart spinning in my chest.
I hear Honor groan as she passes us. “I hate this already.”
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